Upgrades: Ottawa is one of Canada's Halifax-class frigates, which would receive further upgrades under a new plan. (Canadian Dept. of National Defence)
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Canada is opening a second market for companies to upgrade its frigates, with new plans to buy additional systems and equipment for the ships over the next seven years.
The Halifax-class frigates are being upgraded in a CAN $5 billion (US $4.9 billion) program that involves both the modernization of its combat systems, including weapons and radars, and a midlife ship refit program. Lockheed Martin Canada is overseeing the main project to upgrade the combat systems, with the final ship modernization to be finished around 2017.
But now the Royal Canadian Navy has identified a series of additional acquisition projects for the 12 Halifax-class frigates, potentially totaling up to $2.4 billion.
Navy spokesman Lt. Kelly Boyden said the service needs to ensure that the frigates are ready for a variety of missions in the future. “This drives a continuous review of the capabilities of potential adversaries and the performance of our systems,” he wrote in an email.
The frigates, commissioned between 1992 and 1995, form the backbone of the Royal Canadian Navy.
The proposed acquisitions, outlined in the Defence Capability Guide issued to industry on June 25, range from more advanced weapons to unmanned aircraft systems to conduct surveillance for the frigates. Contracts are expected to be in place between 2017 and 2021, depending on the specific timetables of each project.
Among the proposed acquisitions are:
■ Modernized underwater warfare sensor suite. This will be an integrated system that replaces towed array sensors and sonobuoy processing systems, as well as other equipment. Emphasis will be on improving detection performance for targets operating in both open ocean and littoral environments. The cost would be up to $249 million, depending on the systems acquired.
■ Tactical unmanned aircraft system, with an accompanying intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance network and a tactical common data link for the frigates. Cost of this acquisition could reach up to $249 million, depending on number of aircraft ordered.
■ Maritime satellite communications upgrade. The price tag would be up to $99 million but would include two other classes of ships in the upgrade.
■ New multirole boats and launch system. This would be for a new fleet of rigid-hull inflatable boats to operate from the frigates. Improvements will include increased speed, larger load capability and electronics upgrades with communications, navigation and sensors. Cost: up to $99 million.
■ Electronic countermeasures self-defense system for the frigates to protect from target designation and missile lock. The new system would be integrated with the ship’s combat management system, which is part of the ongoing modernization. Cost: up to $99 million.
■ Upgraded tactical command-and-control system, with new software. This will allow for better information exchange with the navies of the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, according to the Canadian Navy. Cost: up to $49 million.
■ Upgrade of existing electronic intelligence and electronic support measures systems to provide signals intelligence and early warning to the ships of threat emitters. Cost: up to $49 million.
■ Tactical radio direction finding and signals collection and analysis. This new capability will provide warning of threat emissions in the communications intercept and electronic intelligence spectrums, according to the Navy. Cost: up to $49 million.
■ Next generation radio suite. That would cost up to $49 million and would be a longer-range project, being put in place between 2021 and 2015.
The most expensive of the proposed future projects, however, involves the purchase of what is being labeled as a point defense missile system. It would ensure the frigates have a modernized capability to protect themselves from anti-ship missile attacks launched from surface, sub-surface, air and land-based systems.
“This project will provide a replacement missile system, capable of countering evolving near and medium term threats, that will remain capable and sustainable beyond 2030,” the Defence Acquisition Guide said. “It will also be capable of engaging surface craft and low velocity aircraft.”
The preliminary cost estimate for the project ranges from $500 million to $1.5 billion, depending on how many missiles are purchased. A request for bids would go out to industry in 2017 with a contract awarded sometime after 2021.
A strong contender for the system is the planned next generation Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), industry sources said.
The frigates are already being modernized with the current version of Raytheon’s ESSM. But the Canadian government is looking to sign a memorandum of understanding by the end of the year that would see it join the consortium of various nations involved in further modernizing that weapon.
That ESSM modernization would extend the weapon system to at least 2030.
“This should take us to the end of the service life of this missile for the Halifax class,” said Royal Canadian Navy Capt. Wade Carter, director of Navy requirements. “The Halifax class is going to take us to the 2030s.”
Carter said any decision by Canada to join the ESSM modernization consortium does not automatically mean the Navy will purchase the new weapon for the frigates.
But industry sources say such a decision will essentially guarantee that the upgraded ESSM would fill the role of the proposed point defense missile system project.
Lockheed Martin Canada has already expressed interest in the new projects for the frigates. Don McClure, vice president of business development for the firm, said a number of the acquisitions would have to be integrated into the new combat management system on the ships, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin.
“Definitely, we’re looking at all of those programs,” he said. “We’re looking at what makes best sense for us.”
In addition, Lockheed has a long-term, in-service support contract for the combat management system on the Halifax-class frigates. “So we would expect in the normal course of events the Navy would decide to buy a particular system and then come to us and ask us to integrate it,” McClure said.
He noted, however, that more exact timelines and costs for the various acquisitions still have to be developed by the Navy. ■